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Portland Press Herald & Maine Sunday Telegram - Markets, Iraq Dominate Senate Debate Economy

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Location: Portland, ME

Portland Press Herald & Maine Sunday Telegram - Markets, Iraq Dominate Senate Debate Economy

Election 2008: U.S. Rep. Tom Allen and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins spar before a large crowd in Portland.

By MATT WICKENHEISER, Staff Writer October 3, 2008

A large crowd watches GOP Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Allen debate at the Portland Regional Chamber's Eggs & Issues breakfast Thursday.

The candidates in Maine's U.S. Senate race sparred Thursday morning over financial regulation, an Iraq withdrawal timetable and other issues in their second debate of the campaign.

Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican incumbent, faced off against her challenger, Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, before a capacity crowd of 550 at the Portland Regional Chamber's Eggs & Issues breakfast.

Allen was at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland for the debate, but Collins was unable to get a flight out of Washington, so she appeared via video conference.

Allen continuously pushed what he said was a need for a bold change in Washington, while Collins touted her bipartisan record in getting legislation passed.

Moderator and WGME TV anchor John Hopperstad's last question gave each candidate a chance to deliver a pitch: Why should each of us vote for you?

Collins answered that she's worked hard for Maine, never missed a roll call vote and worked across party lines.

She pointed to a recent Washington Post tally that recorded her voting with her party 67 percent of the time, while Allen voted with his party 98 percent of the time.

"I think you deserve a senator who will always put the Maine people first, not vote the party line," she said.

Allen said he didn't think this was an ordinary time, and the country had a chance to change its course.

"I believe if you want to change the direction of the country, you need to change leadership in Washington," he said.

On the financial crisis, Allen blamed President Bush, and attempted to link Collins' support of Bush's policies to the problems in the financial markets.

"The lesson of the last week - indeed, the last eight years - is that Wall Street is connected to Main Street," said Allen. "We are all in the same economic boat and will rise and fall together."

The government needs to better regulate the markets, particularly those newer financial instruments that contributed to the mess, said Allen.

Collins said the country hasn't struck the right balance in regulation. She charged that Allen opposed two amendments in 2005 that would have strengthened regulation of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Allen responded that the bill passed the House, with his vote, but died in the Senate.

On taxes, Collins said she supported the tax reform packages that have provided refunds to more than 500,000 Maine residents. She said tax cuts should be made permanent for middle- and low-income people, but said she supports an increase in the rate for people who earn more than $1 million annually.

Allen said he opposed the tax packages, noting that they drove the national deficit up by more than $1 trillion.

"We have driven ourselves deep, deep into a fiscal hole," he said.

On Iraq, Allen said the country should take a lesson from former Sen. George Mitchell's work in Northern Ireland and set a deadline for withdrawal. That, Allen said, would focus the parties on working together to meet the deadline. He said it may be too late, however, suggesting that the Shiite faction is now so strong that it may just roll over the Sunni faction.

Collins said she thought a deadline for withdrawal would embolden America's enemies. She said she has proposed a plan to transition U.S. forces away from day-to-day combat and have them focus on anti-terror missions, securing the border, training Iraqi forces and protecting American interests.

The latest public numbers show Allen trailing Collins by 16 percentage points, according to a SurveyUSA poll of 820 registered Maine voters conducted Sept. 22 and 23. The poll's margin of error is 3.8 percentage points.

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